Stone Mountain City Council agrees to continue virtual meetings for another month

FILE PHOTO: The Stone Mountain City Council discussing offering additional money to help residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stone Mountain, GA — The current uptick in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant forced the Stone Mountain City Council on July 28 to temporarily pause plans to resume in-person meetings.

The Stone Mountain City Council declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 because Gov. Brian Kemp’s emergency declaration has expired. The city’s order will expire in 30 days, unless the City Council chooses to extend it.

Other local cities, including Tucker, have decided to resume in-person meeting, but most have also kept steaming them. Tucker initially planned to stop streaming meetings when they return to meeting in person, but city officials are reevaluating that decision.

The Stone Mountain City Council’s decision to postpone in-person meetings was made unanimously, but not lightly. Mayor Patricia Wheeler, who only breaks tie votes, said Zoom meetings aren’t as effective as being in person, citing instances where people don’t adhere to time limits in public comments and where officials speak over one another.

“But we can’t continue to do Zoom meetings, because I truly feel Zoom meetings are not real productive,” Wheeler said, telling the council members, “It’s up to the six of you.”

Councilmember Diana Roe Hollis, who spent the first part of the meeting with her camera turned upside down, called the Zoom meetings “a little chaotic.”

“Last time I was in city hall, it appears the chamber is set for us to be safe and socially distanced and I am getting more and more frustrated with Zoom meetings which don’t always work,” she said. “People can’t hear you. They talk over you.”

Councilmember Diana Roe Hollis speaks during a July 28 Stone Mountain City Council meeting.

She was a reluctant “yes” on the vote to continue meeting virtually.

Councilmember Clint Monroe advocated for the measure and said the city can’t ensure the safety of the public attending the meetings given the current level of community spread.

“It would be preferable at this time to meet via social media platforms such as Zoom and Facebook in order to safely conduct the business of the city,” Monroe said.  “Right now, if we were to meet at City Hall even with spacing people three feet apart, that is not sufficient to protect us and any member of the public that attends.”

When Hollis cast her “yes” vote she said she hoped the city will find a way to hold meetings safely within 30 days.

“I don’t think we are being productive,” Hollis said. “We haven’t gotten a lot of things done under Zoom, I would hope in 30 days we’ve all got our act together and we can meet in person as all the other city councils are doing”

In other business, the council approved allocating $125,000 in residential relief to Round 2 of the city’s Stone Mountain Cares Relief Program for a total program cost of $134,375. The money goes to help residents with bills they may be struggling with due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city distributed $150,000 to 63 families to help with mortgage, rent and utility payments earlier this year.

The city is still awaiting receipt of some $2.4 million in pandemic relief funds as part of the American Rescue Plan Act that President Joe Biden signed into law in March, according to City Manager ChaQuias Miller-Thornton. This is an increase over the $1.9 million the city originally expected to get. Miller-Thornton recommended that the council hold a special called meeting to discuss how to allocate the funds, so the city is ready to distribute them once received.

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